Fast fashion definition:
“Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends." Source: Oxford Languages
“The reproduction of highly fashionable clothes at high speed and low cost.” Source: Collins English Dictionary
We live in a disposable world where things are mass produced, have short life spans and are quickly replaced. The world of fashion is no exception. Cheap clothes line the rails of shops and once home are often only worn a handful of times.
As the demand for the latest trends grows, items are quickly and cheaply mass produced. Consumers know there will be something new just around the corner so are not interested in the longevity of their clothing. Suppliers are fighting for custom by dropping their prices. In order to maintain profitability their concern is the bottom line cost with little regard for the environment and sustainability. The result – fast fashion.
The problem is circular and spiralling in the wrong direction for a whole host of reasons:
Firstly, fast fashion is largely made from cheap, man-made synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylic and nylon which come with their own issues. They are often derived from non-renewable sources such as oil required to make petroleum. As a result they are packed full of microplastics which leach into the environment every time you wash them. At the end of their life many items of clothing find their way into landfill and will continue to leach microplastics into the environment. According to WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) an estimated £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill each year. To make matters worse, those items which don’t make it to landfill may be burnt which can release poisonous gases into the environment.
Secondly, many of the factories used to manufacture fast fashion are based in Asia and rely heavily on coal and gas. Again using up non-renewable sources and contributing heavily to pollution.
Thirdly, there are also the social-economic issues when you consider working conditions and access to fair wages. But that’s a whole different story which I won’t get into here.
So what can we do?
For 2021 I made the New Year’s Resolution that I would not buy any new clothes this year*. We’re almost one month in and so far so good. I realise that lockdown has made it very easy for me but I know during the year there will be times I’ll want to go shopping. However as this is no longer an option I’ve got my eco alternatives:
REPAIR. I got the sewing badge at Brownies and Guides so time to get out the needle and thread to fix that hole, sew on that button or even get creative and repurpose old clothes into something new.
SWAP. Growing up my sister and I often shared and swapped clothes. Sharing is no longer an option as we live 250miles apart but we do still give each other clothes that we’re tired of.
CHARITY. I think the entire nation has reviewed their wardrobe this year and as a result charity shops are full, in fact many stopped taking new items after the first lockdown.
ON-LINE SECOND HAND SHOPS. I discovered Depop last year which in their words is “A marketplace app to make fashion more inclusive, diverse and less wasteful.” What’s not to love about that?
If you are buying new clothes there are also plenty of things you can consider to help reduce the environmental impact:
SHOP SUSTAINABLY. There are lots of brands whose focus is sustainability. For example Buzz and Baa’s entire range of clothing can be recycled. But they don’t stop there. Their “Circular” range of t-shirts is made from recycled fabric. “Wear – Return –Repeat!” See below for some other sustainable fashion brands.
QUALITY VS QUANTITY. Invest in items that are made to last longer than the latest trend and try to avoid the cheap clothes from manmade materials which have buttons falling off and stitching that comes apart.
ONE IN ONE OUT. Only buy new items as a replacement for old ones. Now this isn’t an excuse to clear out your wardrobe and start again but away of asking yourself “Do I really need this?”
WEAR IT MORE. A friend of mine recently said they “only” wash the kids PJ’s every other day having previously had a fresh set each night. I’m really pleased they’ve halved their washing but as a child my PJ’s lasted me a week between washes. Another friend will only wear things once or use a towel once before it goes in the wash. When questioned they both had felt a bit of social pressure to do this so perhaps a change of mind set is needed. Clothes will last longer if they’re washed less, resources are saved by doing fewer loads and let’s face it, less time doing laundry is always going to make me happier!
I hope this has given you some inspiration to help reduce the impact fashion, especially fast fashion, has on the environment. I figure if Jane Fonda can wear the same dress to the Oscars twice then I can too (well perhaps not to the Oscars but you get the gist.)
*There is a small caveat to my NY Resolution when it comes to underwear and safety equipment for work (I’m also a sailing instructor), these are excluded but I will only buy the essentials - promise.
Here's a list of some amazing sustainable brands as well as some options for second hand clothing.
Sustainable clothing brands
Second hand shops online:
Photo credit: Freestocks Unsplash